Communication Breakdown: SBA Leaves Students Dazed and Confused

Co-written by Christina Phan, Senior Staff Writer & Kurt Whitman, Editor in Chief

THE SBA ELECTION IS HERE!

Election season has commenced. On the Tuesday after Spring Break, students arrived to campus to find posters and fliers announcing the candidacy of several students interested in representing the USD Law student body as members of next year’s Student Bar Association. Many students were surprised to learn that campaigning had begun, and even more surprised to learn that the period for declaring one’s candidacy had ended that very day.  The surprise was a result of what many students believe to be a lack of communication between the SBA and the student body. 

Unlike last year, there was no official e-mail announcement informing students that elections or deadlines were approaching.  According to some students, there were no prominently displayed signs or easily researchable information regarding upcoming elections.  If true, this lack of communication was significant because SBA officer positions are especially coveted due to their inherent networking opportunities and prestige.  What sparked much of the student concern, though, was that seemingly unfair elections would not allow all students an opportunity to run as an official candidate, which meant that specific Executive Board candidates would be more likely to receive SBA stipends.

THE SBA STIPENDS

According to Dean Scivoletto, “USD has historically provided activity grants to five SBA officers for their service to the school. The SBA President received approximately $10,000 per semester, while both Vice Presidents, the Secretary, and the Treasurer received approximately $1,800 per semester.”  

But next year will be different. 

Dean Scivoletto explained, “For the 2011-12 academic year (and continuing), USD Leadership Scholarships will be available via application for SBA Officers and other student leaders.  Awarding of scholarships will be based on need, leadership abilities and potential, and the leadership role of the student.” 

COMMUNICATION CONCERNS: LACK OF NOTIFICATION

One student contacted the current SBA Executive Board to address concerns about the lack of notification. The current SBA President responded to the student via e-mail:  

“…the elections were publicized multiple times in the SBA meetings which are open to all students, in the SBA minutes of multiple meetings, which the secretary posts on the SBA office door and e-mails out to all clubs, and the class representative e-mails, which go to all students who desire to receive them. This certainly constitutes sufficient publication by any standard. Although the Office of Student Affairs does have the listserve for the entire student body, because students get a lot of emails from lawstudentaffairs and they try to keep the e-mails they send on the SBA’s behalf to a minimum.” [sic]

When the SBA President’s e-mail became viral, many students felt that it was not an adequate and fair representation of the notification process. SBA meetings are always held on a Monday, during the lunch hour. Therefore, if individuals must work or have other out-of-school responsibilities and are not available on Mondays around noon, they would not be able to hear information publicized at those meetings. Also, one student noted that on the SBA office door and wall, the latest set of minutes posted is from last October. Other students, some of which are active members and officers of student organizations, likewise did not receive notification of the election calendar.

Dean Scivoletto confirmed that the Office for J.D. Student Affairs regularly grants requests to send e-mails from student organizations. There is no indication that the office actively limits communication from the SBA to the student body. Also, the opt-in e-mail service, started by the elected student representatives, was not widely known to the student body.  To opt-in to the e-mail service, students needed to e-mail the 2L or 3L e-mail account and request to be included in future correspondence.  Notification of the account e-mail address was disseminated via Facebook. If individuals do not use Facebook on a regular basis, or are not Facebook friends with the elected representatives, they would likely not have known about the opportunity to receive weekly e-mail updates.

The weekly e-mail list is not a program initiated by the SBA; it is an independent procedure initiated by student representatives to communicate upcoming events and announcements to the student body. The SBA Executive Board itself never notified students that if they wanted to receive a weekly e-mail, they should contact their representatives to be added to the list.

COMMUNICATION CONCERNS: THE SBA WEBSITE

Another communication-related concern involves the SBA website.  On its “About Us” page, the website states that the SBA is “the student voice before the faculty and administration.” The page also states, “This website . . . was created to assist clubs in scheduling events and communicating those events to the student body.” The SBA website’s most recent posting promotes the Barrister’s Ball.  The next most recent is a “Happy Thanksgiving” post.  There is no information on the site discussing this year’s elections and no workable calendar informing students of this year’s dates and deadlines.  The SBA President, on behalf of the Executive Board, addressed this issue with the following statement:

“The SBA has been working with a student [to] rework the back end operations of the SBA website to make it manageable for those of us not fluent in HTML and other programming languages.  It has been a long and laborious process. Unfortunately budget constraints make it unfeasible for us to hire a full-time programmer to assist with with [sic] this task while maintaining student activities and programs.  Any student who is interested in assisting with the reworking may contact us, [sic] your help would be greatly appreciated!” 1

Motions understands the time and effort it takes to create a successful website. Motions Online is a WordPress blog—just like the SBA’s site.  Even though creation and maintenance of a WordPress blog does not require computer programming experience nor require knowledge of html, managing a website can nonetheless be a tedious task.  Our Web Editor spends about 20 hours per month managing Motions Online

Our Editor in Chief e-mailed the SBA in September to request publicity for our website’s launch.2  The Editor in Chief also suggested collaborating with the SBA for event posting purposes.  The SBA never publicized the debut of Motions Online, and although an SBA officer did promise to “make sure to bring it up,” nothing ever arose from the collaboration idea either.  One week later, on September 29, 2010, Motions Online debuted. 

The SBA website uploaded its first post on October 12, 2010.  The post states:

The SBA Website is back online!

In the coming weeks, we’ll be updating the website with new features and services that will benefit the USD Law School Student Body.  Stay tuned!

On October 18 and October 26, 3L Representatives sent out an SBA weekly email that included the following announcement about the SBA website:

“[The website] is currently undergoing a major renovation to make it more user-friendly and current. It is still pending, but it will be AWESOME when it’s up!!!”3

COMMUNICATION CONCERNS: RELIANCE ON FACEBOOK

Concern over the SBA’s lack of communication to students has been a pivotal issue throughout the year. The SBA has primarily disseminated information about social events hosted or supported by the SBA itself (e.g., Halloween Party, Barrister’s Ball, Bar Reviews). The SBA typically hangs posters and distributes fliers advertising its events.  It also sends e-mails through the Student Affairs Office.  And there is vigorous communication and publicity about SBA social events on Facebook.  The SBA Social Chair has a Facebook page that is constantly updated; event reminders and message reminders are sent to students on a continual basis. However, the SBA has generally refrained from Facebook notifications about non-social engagements.  The USD SBA Facebook page has not been updated since last year and lists contact information for last year’s Executive Board. 

The vast majority of SBA campaigning during these elections has occurred over Facebook via status updates and event pages. Some candidates are even developing creative YouTube videos and posting them on Facebook. Although there will be no SBA presidential debate this year, candidates have been answering questions on their event pages to help validate their credentials.  But USD Law does not require students to communicate via Facebook, and students were not notified about the option to receive information via social networking.  In fact, many students do not even have a Facebook account.

THE ELECTION APPEALS

Concerned about the SBA’s lack of communication regarding the election, several students filed appeals to the Election Committee.4 After tensions mounted within Facebook posts, on Tuesday evening (one week before the elections), the SBA Executive Board held an emergency meeting to try and rectify the situation as quickly and prudently as possible.

After the emergency meeting, an Election Committee was appointed and the General Council was asked via email to approve it.5 That same evening, an e-mail was sent to all law students informing them that the declaration filing deadline had been extended from Tuesday, March 22 at 9:30 a.m. to Friday, March 25 at 9:30 a.m. The voting date remains the same: Elections will still be held on Tuesday, March 29 and Wednesday, March 30.

Because of the extensions, the two candidates who were formerly write-ins are now on the ballot. Additionally, several new candidates have entered the race. Though these candidates have had a limited time frame to campaign, they now have the opportunity to rally their base, plead their case, and elicit student votes.  The tense exchanges that occurred on Facebook involving the communication and notification process of the SBA seem to have diminished. Candidates and interested voters are now focused on the issues more central to the future of USD Law.

THE FUTURE SBA

As any executive board should expect, next year’s SBA will face confrontation, concerns, and challenges. The most significant challenge for the 2011-2012 Board will likely be improving communication from the SBA to the students. The new members of next year’s SBA Board must remember that they serve the students as a whole. This is, and should always remain, the SBA’s priority. A possible first step for next year’s Board is to develop a comprehensive communication plan, perhaps starting with a workable website.

As for the rest of us, we can make our selections on the candidates we feel would best develop a culture of transparency and facilitate open dialogue by voting in this week’s elections.

UPDATE:  2011-2012 USD LAW SBA PRESIDENT ELECTED

UPDATE:  2011 Elections: WINNING CANDIDATES & VOTING TALLIES

CANDIDATE GUIDE


1 The SBA President provided Motions with a written statement via e-mail.  The statement is signed, “The SBA Executive Board.”  HERE is the statement.
 
2The Editor in Chief sent two e-mails.  The first, sent on September 21, 2010, was sent to an SBA Executive Board Member.  HERE is that e-mail.  HERE is the Board Member’s response.  The second, sent on September 22, 2010, was sent to the 3L Reps.  HERE is that e-mail.  
 
You can visit the SBA website HERE.  You can read the background story of Motions Online HERE.
 
Although the committee was required to acknowledge receipt of the appeals within 12 hours, some of these appeals went unanswered and unacknowledged. The few appeals that were acknowledged did not receive notice until after the deadline, and no hearings ever occurred.  Additionally, at some point in this process, the original Election Committee Chair stepped down from the position.  


5
 Several members of the General Council (which is composed of one representative from each student organization) were confused about the issue at hand and requested more information.  The representative from the Health Law Society cast an “abstain” vote (citing SBA Bylaws) until the SBA disclosed further information regarding the appointment of the new committee members and the issue at hand.  It is unclear whether the committee members ever received the information they requested from the SBA, and the SBA declined to disclose the results of this vote.

The Motions staff felt it was in the best interest of everyone involved to refrain from using student names in this article.  Members of the Motions staff contacted approximately 70 students to request statements and information.  The majority of these students expressly declined to comment.  Those who did comment consisted of students within the following groups: current SBA board members and officers, candidates currently running for SBA office, students who expressed opinions on Facebook, and the general USD Law student population.  Our goal for this article was to inform the student body of the facts surrounding this year’s SBA election and the general lack of SBA communication in an objective, unbiased manner.  We appreciate all those individuals who helped us in this process.  If you have comments or questions regarding this article, please contact us at motions@sandiego.edu.  All comments directly posted on this page must abide by the Motions Comment Policy.

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